Endings. There’s a reason I like mysteries. The bad guy gets caught and justice is restored at the end of the book. If it’s a series, you know the sleuth/P.I./detective, police protagonist/etc. isn’t going to die at the end. He might get shot, beat up, trampled on, but he won’t die. Unless the author’s sick of the series and decides to end it once and for all, which doesn’t happen often. Usually, the repeat recurring characters are safe, too.
Let’s face it. Even in cozies, some minor character is often bumped off somewhere near the middle of the book to give the story a twist, a surprise, more impact. But readers are expecting that. I know, I am. In thrillers, almost always, the author creates characters for the sole reason to make us care about them so they can die. But we always know that one or more of them are expendable to up the ante of tension and make the antagonist look like a force to be reckoned with. Even more, we can almost guess which minor character is going to be sacrificed. It’s part of the rhythm of the story.
But at the end, even when there might be sadness, there’s also triumph. Not always the case when we wander into other genres. I feel pretty safe when I read urban fantasy. I mean, there are huge battles and horrific foes, but the good guys (in the ones I’ve read) win the final battle. There might be casualties, but usually no one major. And there might be a touch of the bittersweet, like when Kate’s adopted daughter goes off on her own, at the end of Ilona Andrews’ Magic series. But I haven’t read one book yet where the evil wins.
And I guess, I must really like the old, trusted good triumphs over evil idea. Because I’ve read two books now that really bugged me when I read the last chapters. And I have to say. I’m the ONLY one they bothered. Both books have great reviews. But they bothered me so much, I had to stop to think about why. I’ve read tragedies. I mean, Shakespeare was pretty good at them. I even liked them. I could see the end coming. And I think that’s the difference.
When I read horror (and I do sometimes), the end of the story is less predictable. Sometimes, evil wins. But not in the Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels I’ve read, and not in Ray Bradbury’s Something Evil This Way Comes. I liked those, because even though a lot of people were overcome by whatever monster (supernatual or human) mortals battled, the main protagonists survived. In short stories, it’s more of a toss-up. The haunted house might “eat” the person who wanders inside it. But I always know, as I read, that the ending might let the bad guy win. I’m ready for it.
The two recent books I read didn’t prepare me for such downer endings. That pleased a lot of readers. They liked being surprised. I’m not fond of surprises, not in real life, and not in books. I’m beginning to think I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. My kids might have always suspected that:) So I didn’t let the endings affect my reviews, because I think they were more about who I am than the books. But come on, I have to be a little honest, if the endings made me want to throw my Kindle at a wall, I had to at least mention that. What aggravated me, I’m thinking probably pleased most readers.
The thing is this. If a writer’s tone lets me know that someone I care about (even if they’re minor characters) is doomed, I prepare myself. It’s like watching a pet go downhill until you know you have to call the vet and do what you DON’T want to. But if the ending comes out of thin air, and you didn’t see it coming, it’s more of a shock than a surprise. And I DON’T LIKE IT. I’ve followed someone I like through one book, and sometimes more, and then the end is a COMPLETE DOWNER. And I feel gypped. Tricked. Cheated. But I’m alone, and that’s a good thing. Because any author who can make me care that much about characters is one fine writer. And the stories they write are wonderful. I just don’t like the endings.